By Anya Whitlock
Artist: Hollie Smith
Date / Venue: Friday April 15th, 2016 - The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Upon entering The Tuning Fork in downtown Auckland it was like entering some sort of wacky peaceful music protest... Half the crowd were seated on the floor waiting for Hollie Smith to grace the stage. Everyone stood and assumed the position when she reached the mike and began belting out 2 epic songs from her latest album 'Water Or Gold' which was released on the 1st of April this year. The first single off the new album - 'Lady Dee' was especially special. Climactic melodic crescendos for Hollie's voice were executed flawlessly and effortlessly. The song ebbed and flowed through multiple dramatic tempo and volume changes and it really felt like we were joining the band on an emotional storytelling adventure.
Her third song 'Lead the Way' had a much more rock n roll vibe and was reminiscent rhythmically and tonally of Pink Floyd's 'Money'. This new direction for Hollie also reminded me of Wellington rockers The Nudge. Ballsy swinging syncopation was prominent and the band shined at this opportunity to be featured more rather than just supporting Hollie's amazing voice. It was awesome to hear a great synth solo from Daniel Hayles and I think the concert overall would have benefited from more musical solos, even another addition to the rhythm section who could have stepped up and diversified the set and picked up the pieces as Hollie still finds her feet playing the guitar.
In saying that however, it was great to see Hollie behind a guitar instead of a piano as it made for a better stage show. The band were nice and tight musically and there was a really relaxed and friendly atmosphere coming from the stage. Their cohesion from touring was apparent and the drummer Darren Mathiassen (previously of Shapeshifter fame) deserves a special mention for being an absolute powerhouse and a joy to watch.
Hollie's history with excessive alcohol use was brought up with her declaring that she's much funnier and less awkward when drunk but isn't allowed to be drunk tonight. The audience seemed to remain in openhearted adoration of her and tolerated the uncomfortable speeches between songs well. I tried to find the rants endearing but her neurosis really took me away from the musical experience and I found myself wishing for the next song.
This resistance dropped away entirely however in intro she gave for her last song 'Helena'. Hollie was authentic and spoke with clarity and conviction about this special song. It was originally written with Helena's fiancé for their marriage in 2014. Helena passed away from cancer September last year but got to hear the studio version of the song the morning before she passed. The song was utterly heartfelt and simple with all music supporting Hollie's voice and lyric. She wiped away tears at the end of the song and the depth of feeling was touching to be part of.
For an encore they played 'Bathe In The River' her first hit from 2006. It's a beautiful bluesy ballad and displays Hollie's incredible voice so well. The music on her latest album journeys in new directions and it's so important for musicians to experiment and evolve but I can't help but think that it's with songs like 'Bathe in the river' that Hollie is at her best.